Our season preview capsule for the Texas Longhorns:
Most important player: Well, sure, the obvious answer would have to be whoever starts at quarterback for Texas. If this team hopes to take a big step and win eight or nine games in Charlie Strong’s second season, those quarterbacks must step up. But running back Johnathan Gray will be the guy who makes that offense go. The former five-star recruit is now a senior and all signs point toward a big season for him, especially if Texas' offensive line play improves.
Offensive breakout player: There is a reason freshman wide receiver John Burt has been practicing with Texas’ first-team offense from day one. Burt, an ESPN 300 recruit from Florida, arrived this summer and proved he can be a difference-maker right away. With John Harris and Jaxon Shipley gone, Texas has a real need for a reliable pass-catcher who can stretch the field, and Burt has shown a knack for making tough catches and big plays in fall practice.
Defensive breakout player: You already know all about linebacker Malik Jefferson by now. But here’s another first-year starter who’s poised to make a name for himself: John Bonney. The redshirt freshman from Houston fits best as the versatile nickelback in Strong’s defense, but is showing in fall practice that he is just as capable of providing lockdown coverage at cornerback. No matter what role he lands, Texas coaches are confident he will be an important piece to their defensive puzzle.
Most important game: The Longhorns open Big 12 play with consecutive games against three of the best teams in the conference: Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma. That first one, at home against the Cowboys on Sept. 26, should get the tone. Texas blew out the Pokes last season in Stillwater, but didn’t have to face Mason Rudolph. By the time this showdown rolls around, will Texas be rolling with Jerrod Heard? If so, will he be ready for his first Big 12 test?
Class of 2015 signee to watch: Many of the headlines have been about Jefferson, and for good reasons, but keep a close eye on offensive lineman Connor Williams. Jefferson probably has a 50-50 shot at starting the season opener against Notre Dame, but the odds are even better for Williams, a name Longhorns fans really didn’t get too excited about when he committed last recruiting cycle. -- Jeremy Crabtree
Class of 2016 storyline: It’s a new world for Texas fans who grew accustomed to Mack Brown having his entire class in place by the start of fall camp. Strong does things differently, takes his time and prefers to close strong near signing day. The Longhorns do have eight commits on board, including ESPN 300 quarterback Shane Buechele and receivers Tren'Davian Dickson and Collin Johnson. -- Crabtree
Prediction: The Longhorns get off to an up-and-down start, including tough losses to Notre Dame and TCU, and are 3-3 at midseason. But they manage to string together a steak, winning four of their next five en route to a 7-5 regular season. A bowl upset to reach eight wins has Texas heading in the right direction.